Ah Toy and Ah Kan - Crossing Paths in Warren

USDA Forest Service
Payette National Forest, Heritage Program
July 2002

During the last half of the 19th century, the people of China were undergoing a series of struggles that included warfare, slavery, natural disasters, overpopulation and environmental degradation. In order to improve their standard of living, thousands of Chinese sojourners and immigrants came to western America in search of economics opportunities. Many planned to return to China when they had made their fortunes. The Chinese found work in mines, building railroads, and canneries. They also worked a variety of service jobs in mining districts and ports.

Born in Canton, China, Ah Toy came to Idaho in a wave of Chinese migrating to the western states and territories after gold was discovered there. In 1880, when he was 31, he worked as a miner in the Warren area. In 1890 he took a trip back to China, probably to visit with family. He soon returned in 1891 and continued as a successful merchant man selling pork to the miners at the Mayflower Mine for 17 cents per pound.

In 1892 Ah Toy is noted on a delinquent tax list as owning 16 horses with a man called Ah Kan. Ah Kan came to central Idaho as a boy with his father in 1862. As a young man he ran a mule train, packing into Warrens. Later Ah Kan worked with Ah Toy at managing livestock, and packing and transporting goods. Both men prospered but their lives took different paths.

Ah Toy had a garden spot on the slopes of the South Fork of the Salmon River where he raised vegetables and strawberries, selling them to people in the area of Warren. He had a little mining claim that he worked also. He constructed ditches from a nearby spring to irrigate his garden, water livestock and placer mine at his claim. He grew hops, grapes, rhubarb, strawberries, and other produce. Ah Toy had the skills of a miner, gardener, livestock packer, merchant, and traveler and was capable of doing business with the ethnically diverse frontier population. He built a simple dugout into the hillside and found his niche in the local community.

Ah Kan accumulated a fortune and returned to China. He married and settled down to a lige of ease. He soon grew homesick for the free life of the mines, and returned to America around 1910, leaving his wife with the promise that he would send for her. Shortly after he left China, a son was born but his wife died soon afterwards. The placer mines had ceased to be profitable and he never regained his former wealth. He became a herbal doctor in Warren and was population with the children.

Bu 1910 Ah Toy and Ah Kan were two of only six Chinamen living in Warren. Sometime after 1910 but before 1918 ah Toy moved to the vicinity of Meadows and Long Valley. In Old Meadows he had a restaurant and laundry. During Roseberry's heyday he had a restaurant in the Cox General Store, and then in 1918, he moved to McCall and was the proprietor of the Idaho Hotel (now called Hotel McCall). Sometime before the 1920 census Ah Toy probably went back to China or moved elsewhere, for there are no more records of him.

Ah Kan continued on at Warren as the last of the Chinese immigrants to live there. In 1932, Forest Ranger A.E. Briggs talked of Ah Kan saying, "No one seemed to know how old he was, but he could have easily been a hundred years of age, judging from his appearance. He was very reserved and was never seen talking to anyone. Some folks say he was cranky, but who wouldn't be at that age." In March of 1934, Ah Kan was flown out of Warren by a local pilot and taken to the Grangeville County hospital where he passed away.

Two men, Ah Toy and Ah Kan, came and went, seeking their fortunes, sharing the trail for a moment then traveling their separate ways.